A Port expert has warned that acting on a call to “nationalise” an Australian Port will result in a loss of business trust. South Australian Labour MP Nick Champion said that Darwin Port, which Chinese company Landbridge Group has a 99-year lease for from the Australian Government, should be “nationalised” but Neil Davidson, senior analyst Ports & Terminals at Drewry, said that this would “undermine trust” in future deals.

“If the government reneges on a done deal, then it would undermine trust in all other Australian port deals,” he said. He added that the Landbridge contract, signed in 2015, was for a lease rather than an outright sale, “so it wasn’t a privatisation in the true sense of the word”.

Power Play

Concern over China’s growing influence in the ports sector has been exacerbated by its Belt & Road Initiative (BRI), which Australia has not signed up to, while China’s military presence in the Indo-Pacific region is also being monitored.

MP Champion said: “It’s a very important port because we have significant defence facilities in the Northern Territory and that’s the part of the world I guess we have to pay a great deal of attention to.

“We should look pretty clearly at making sure that that port is in government hands, and it’s for those reasons I think it should be nationalised.”

Mr Davidson pointed out that “if the lease was designed and negotiated properly, there will be various safeguards and requirements relating to Landbridge’s behaviour & performance, and measures available if these are not met”.

In 2016, US$18.5m was committed to projects aimed at expanding the Port’s reefer, General Cargo and Cruise Ship capability.